[From the Trenches] Boundary Setting for the Mama Actor

Are you clear about your mama actor boundaries?

If there’s one thing I talk to my kids about a lot it’s boundaries. I’m constantly telling the big guy, “Your sister is setting a boundary when she does that. That means she’s telling you not to do it.”


All. day. long.


boundary: something (such as a river, a fence, or an imaginary line like a feeling or a word) that shows where one area ends and another area begins.It got me thinking about my own boundaries in my acting career. Am I clear with my mama actor boundaries? How do I even know? Is this another thing my toddler is teaching me? I guess it’s a fair exchange–I’ll teach you how to walk and talk and poo in the toilet, and you teach me how to set boundaries.


For example, last week I submitted to an unpaid project on Actor’s Access. I don’t usually do unpaid work, but sometimes there can be benefits–a great role that will give me good, fresh footage for my reel, for example. When I got called in to audition, I re-evaluated, “Do I want to do this? Is this within the area of yes or within the area of no?” I decided the only way to know was to go in and meet the creative team.


As I’m sitting in the waiting area, I hear them ask the actor in the room before me, “We’re having callbacks tomorrow, are you available to come in?” Shit, I think. I’m scheduled to volunteer in my son’s classroom tomorrow, a shift that I’ve already rescheduled twice now. Plus, I don’t really want to come to a callback for an unpaid short film. Ding, ding, ding–boundary alert, boundary alert! Approaching the limit where yes is turning into no!


So it’s my turn, I go into the room, and I have a great time–smart redirection, fun people, fun material. We get to the end of my audition, and sure enough the director asks, “We’re having callbacks tomorrow, are you available to come in?”


What did I learn from the toddler again? Speak up. Set a boundary.


Me: You know, I’ve had a great time today, and I’m totally available for your rehearsal and shoot dates. If there’s something else I can show you today that would help you make a casting decision, I’m happy to do that, but honestly, I’m volunteering in my son’s classroom tomorrow (yes, I went there with the mom truth and everything), and I’m just not available for a callback.


 Oh, wow. What grade? My daughter is in kindergarten so I totally get it. The callback is just our selfish desire to keep working with actors, it’s totally fine, don’t worry about it.


Huh, look at that. Setting boundaries isn’t as hard as I thought. It’s crucially important as a mama actor to recognize a boundary–the limit that indicates where a yes becomes a no–and be able to defend it and speak up for it.


Sometimes boundaries shift and that’s okay too. If it had been a callback for a recurring on a Netflix series you can bet I’d be speed-dialing my list of sitters, because that would have fallen into the area of yes.


I spent about half a second wondering what they really thought of my boundary-setting before I checked my own nonsense. The producer may have been bullshitting me. He may have secretly respected that I spoke up. He may have not really cared either way. Who knows? (Update: I booked the gig, so I guess we do know.)


The point is, it doesn’t matter. We seek artistic truth and authenticity in our work, why not in our business? When your outside matches your inside that’s a state of integrity. Thank you, baby girl, for another lesson in adult-ing, toddler-style. It sure does grow you up, this parenting gig, doesn’t it?


What do you think, mama? When have you had to set a boundary in our industry as a result of a parenting “thing”? How did it go? I’d love to hear your story in the comments below, or in the TMA Facebook group.


From the Trenches is a series of stories, insights, and lessons straight from the audition rooms of Los Angeles to give you an honest, behind-the-scenes look at the day-to-day minutae of life as a working mama actor.

September Meet Up: Producer Stefanie Huie

At our Mama Meet Up in September we had the great fortune of chatting with Independent Producer Stefanie Huie.


As an independent producer, Stefanie develops projects for film and television. She currently working on a film adaptation of the novel Belle Epoque and TV pilot Beast Mode. Stefanie also worked for the Sundance Institute as the Outreach Consultant for the Sundance Writer and Director Labs.  Before that, she worked as Senior VP of Feature Films at Icon Productions, Mel Gibson’s production company. She started her career at Creative Artists Agency after receiving her degree in Political Science from Stanford University.


In addition to her career achievements, she is the mom of two children–her daughter just started kindergarten and her son is a pre-schooler! She was still working at Icon when her daughter was born, and she shared what it was like working in a studio environment as a mom versus the more flexible world of independent producing.




Here’s some of my favorite tidbits from our conversation:


  • On the logistic, day-to-day life details: I try to mainly do work when my daughter is in school, and we have help with my son–he’s in preschool. So I schedule reading scripts and phone calls for those daytime hours.
  • On passion: I make sure to only take on projects that I absolutely love.
  • Advice to new moms: After becoming a mom give yourself a break, and use it as a chance to re-evaluate what your dreams and desires are. One day you will wake up and know what is the right next step for you.
  • The funny: She told a hilarious story about running into Mel Gibson in the break room at Icon, while she was in the middle of cleaning her breast pump. Go nursing mamas!


If you are a member of The Mama Actor Facebook Community, you can watch the full video by scrolling down the page and looking for our Live feed.


Next month, we’ll meet with legal and EEOC representatives from SAG-AFTRA to talk about maternity benefits for mama actors, working considerations on set for pregnant and breastfeeding moms, and much more.

Do Children Hold Female Artists Back?

Hein Koh

Artist mama Instagram In case you can’t see what Hein Koh wrote beneath this epic photo, here is what she says…


“#tbt 5/19/15 when my twins were 5 weeks old and despite the sleep deprivation and frequent (every 2-3 hours, 24-7, 45 min at a time) breastfeeding, I was still getting shit done. Marina Abramovic thinks children hold women back in the art world, but as @dubz19 put so aptly, “FUKKK THAT”. All Marina knows is her own experience, and it may be true for her, but that is not everyone’s experience nor truth. Becoming a mom (of twins no less) has personally helped me become a better artist – I learned to be extremely efficient with my time, prioritize what’s important and let go of the rest, and multitask like a champ. I learned to function (even if barely) on very little sleep, and out of the chaos, insanity and even torture at times, a flood of new emotions entered into my work, becoming more interesting & layered as a result. I’m also not saying that artist parents are better artists than non-parent artists, or that choosing not to be a parent will deny you access to these learning experiences. What I am saying is that parenting is like any other challenge in life – the biggest fucking challenge in my own life thus far – and if you embrace it and figure out creative solutions, you can emerge a better person. It’s important to think about the ways in which these challenges can help you move forward, rather than hold you back.


Marina Abramovic


The interview she is referring to is Marina Abramovic’s conversation with The Observer entitled, I Had Three Abortions Because Children Hold Female Artists Back. Quite a bold statement, but not as compelling as it would have been had it been made by an actual mother. There are many reasons why I’ve never seen an artist mom make that statement publicly: a) she would be butchered as if she were Casey Anthony; and b) as Hein Koh articulates above, there are deep and surprising creative benefits of being a mother.


The truth is, Marina Abramovic will never really know if having children would have held her back. She can only speculate based on her external perspective of artists and mothers at the time that she made her choice (she is 70 after all). I’d like to think that Hein Koh’s perspective is the more common belief today, but I don’t really know.


This is perhaps the core of what makes becoming an artist mom so difficult — unlike art, or marriage, or anything else in life really, you can’t really know what it’s like for you without doing it, and once you do it, you can’t undo it. You can’t just try out being a mom and then say, “no, thanks, this is holding me back too much. I’m gonna choose something different.” Motherhood is the ultimate sliding door.


There’s no other way to decide but to sit with the choice and listen to your innermost voice, the voice that only arises out of the deepest silence, and see what that voice has to say. If I know anything about Marina Abramovic, I believe that this is what she did in order to come to her decision.


Here’s what else I know: if a woman wants to be a mother, and she also wants to be a world-renowned artist, then she should be able to do both of those things. If a woman wants to be an artist and have no children, then she should do that. If a woman wants to be a mother and not practice her art, she should do that. Women should do whatever the fuck they want to do without being persecuted or discriminated against for her choice. That’s feminism to me.


Children don’t hold female artists back, patriarchy does. The last line of Marina’s interview speaks volumes to this. She says, “There are good artists that have children. Of course there are. They’re called men.” The only words I have in response to this are hashtags: #partoftheproblem #noimagination #wecandobetter.


Children don't hold female artists back, patriarchy does. #MarinaAbramovic Click To Tweet


What do you think of Marina Abramovic’s POV vs. Hein Koh’s POV? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

August Mama Meetup: Director Tara Miele


If you’re a member of The Mama Actor Community on Facebook, then you already know about our monthly Mama Meetups. If you’re not, you are missing out on some gorgeous live and in person get togethers. (What are you waiting for? Only requirements: be a mama or a papa and an artist.) Every month I invite a guest mama–a mom who is working in the industry–to share her journey and insights about balancing mothering with a creative career.


In August, our guest mama was writer/director Tara Miele, who has directed feature films such as Starving in Suburbia, Thinspiration, and The Lake Effect (which she wrote and directed while 7 months pregnant). As a writer, she’s sold films to Lionsgate, Screengems, New Line, Gild Circle Films and Disney Channel. Most recently, she created the film ‘Meet a Muslim‘ to combat Islamophobia, and it has over 2 million views and has been featured on sites Refinery 29, Now This, and Huffington Post. She’s also mom to two girls.


Tara was so inspiring to the moms present at the meetup and those who joined us in the Facebook Live video feed. Here’s one of my favorite quotes from the conversation:


Tara Miele


Becoming a mom has not only made me more emotional, but more human, more connected to other people, more stalwart in my beliefs, and more confident in declaring my opinion as a valid opinion. I think in my 20’s and even my early 30’s I was kind of like, ‘Oh, there’s some big conversations going on, but I’m actually not that informed, so I’m just not going to participate. I have an opinion but I’m not sure it’s the right opinion because I’m not totally educated on it, so I’m just gonna hold back.’ And I wasn’t like that as a kid…So now I’m way back to my childhood self, where I’m like, ‘I think I have something to say about this gun issue, because I have two young children and it effects me, and I actually have something to say about tolerance with other people because I live in a city with a lot of diverse people.’


My second favorite story was when she shared how the project ‘Meet a Muslim’ started over dinner one night when she was trying to explain to her 7-year old why her grandmother was afraid of Muslim people. She says, “Being a mom makes you have to explain the world and what else are you doing as an artist but explaining the world.”


I really related to this, as I also have an inquisitive 7-year old. In trying to help our tiny humans navigate the world, so many things that we’ve glossed over in the hustle of life come into stark relief. These explanations of what it is to be human in our world, in our country, in our town, are the molecules of meaningful stories. And in explaining to our children, we explain to ourselves, we relearn what is important, we resee what we’ve learned not to see. I know I’ve become a stronger, braver artist since becoming a mother. I’d love know how motherhood has changed you as an artist and storyteller. Feel free to comment below, or join us on Facebook, where you can also access the rest of this conversation with Tara Miele.


In September, producer Stephanie Huie will be our guest mama, so if you’re not a member of our Facebook community, head over to the page and request to join or shoot me an email and I’ll add you.